Every part of Jesus’ life, from his birth to his ascension, impacted lives. Take for example, even as Jesus traveled the Via Dolorosa on the way to the cross, he touched lives. A company of four Roman soldiers was charged with the execution of Jesus. One soldier usually led the way with a placard that described the crime. In Jesus’ case, it read, “JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS” (John 19:19). Jesus was required to carry the crossbeam of his cross, which weighed about 100 pounds. The heavy, single post that would support the crossbeam awaited them at the execution site.
The soldiers soon realized that Jesus was too weak to carry the heavy beam. He had been beaten by Herod’s soldiers and Pilate’s, and in addition his excruciating flogging would have left him barely standing. The soldiers did not want Jesus to die en route to the cross, so they compelled Simon from Cyrene to carry Jesus’ cross (Luke 23:26). Simon was from North Africa (Libya) and most likely came to observe the Passover. While his experience of carrying the cross may have been humiliating and taxing, it was also transforming.
While Matthew and Luke introduce Simon by his name and country of origin, Mark adds some other details, “A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross” (Mark 15:21). It certainly appears that Mark’s naming of Rufus and Alexander is because they are believers. Mark gives the impression he knows Simon, probably because Simon became a follower of Christ. Later, Paul greets Rufus in Romans (16:3). There is a good possibility that Simon’s life was transformed from his contact with Jesus on the way to the cross. Simon’s family followed him in his faith, and they ended up being leaders in the church in Rome.
It most likely started that day when Simon was seized by the Romans to carry Jesus’ cross. He became an eyewitness to everything that happened to Jesus and everything Jesus said. Perhaps he was one of the many witnesses Luke interviewed when he wrote his Gospel. There, as Simon watched the gruesome events of that day unfold—God’s amazing grace was changing Simon.
That day also transformed the Roman officer in charge of the execution. He heard Jesus pray for him and his men, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). He must have wondered how this man could pray that prayer. As Jesus said his last words from the cross, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,” the centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, "Surely this was a righteous man" (Luke 23:46-47).
That day two unlikely disciples were made in the most unusual circumstances. They saw in Jesus what they wanted, and they reached out and received his grace. Jesus is still touching people today in the same way.